Thesis and Exam Guidelines


For their thesis project, students will write and direct an original film, based on an original or adapted screenplay written by the student. Students must own full rights to any adaptation. Thesis films will have a minimum running time of 20 minutes and a maximum running time of 30 minutes.



Choosing a Committee:

-By the end of the third semester of study a student will have chosen a thesis advisor (committee chair) and a committee. The committee will be comprised of a minimum of three members: the thesis chair (who must be a Digital Filmmaking faculty member), a second member of the Digital Filmmaking faculty, and a third member who may either be from the Digital Filmmaking faculty or another department’s graduate faculty (this also includes graduate faculty from the Theatre Program). It is the student’s responsibility to ask specific faculty members if they are willing to serve on their committee. Once the committee is chosen, the Graduate Thesis Committee Form should be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies.

Should a student wish to change the members of their graduate committee, they must submit a Change in Graduate Thesis Committee Form to the Director of Graduate Studies. The form must be signed by the committee chair, the outgoing committee member, and the incoming committee member.

Script Defense:

-During the fourth semester of study, the student will submit a script and a production proposal that must be approved by the thesis committee. The script will detail the student’s proposed film and provide the opportunity for review and feedback from the committee. The production proposal will provide the student’s vision for the films in terms of style, casting, and locations. The committee may require revisions prior to approval. There are three possible outcomes at the script defense: the script passes as is, the script passes but with revisions to be approved by the committee chair, or the script fails and must be revised and presented to the committee at a later meeting. Once the script has passed, any significant modifications to the script require the approval of the student’s committee.

The script and production plan will be submitted to the committee in a formal meeting. Graduate students are required to make an oral presentation of their script, providing committee members the opportunity to evaluate the student’s knowledge and understanding of the proposal as well as the student’s ability to reason and present logical explanations to questions related to the completion of the proposed film.The presentation will be conducted as a script proposal defense. The student will provide an overview of the script and proposed film. Following the oral presentation there will be a period for questions and answers.

Normally, the script proposal defense takes place in early March. The meeting is scheduled well in advance. All students are expected to defend their script during the same week.

Students must pass the script defense in order to take the comprehensive examination. A student who has not passed the script defense by the time of the comprehensive examination will have to wait to take the exam until the next semester in which it is given (Fall and Spring only).

-The script should be 20 to 30 pages long and conform to all formatting guidelines and stylistic features of the standardized spec script.

-The purpose of the production proposal is to ensure that the student is taking all aspects of the thesis film into consideration as he develops his project. The proposal will also be used as a benchmark to discuss during the filmmaking process and ultimate defense of the final film.

The proposal should be no longer than 10 pages and no shorter than 7 pages (1 inch margins, 1.5 spacing).

Elements of the Proposal:

1. Abstract – Executive Summary about the elements of the proposal

2. Artist’s Statement
a. This is about the filmmaker rather than the film. Discuss your goals as a filmmaker in general. Why have you chosen to be a filmmaker? How do you expect to use your skills as a filmmaker for your career?
b. Discuss your personal objective of the film being produced for the Thesis (besides fulfilling the requirements for the degree of course). Why are you doing this film? Is there a personal and/or intellectual goal driving the development of your film?

3. Production Treatment
a. Story Summary
b. Concept Statement – this is your one to two sentence pitch that encapsulates the story and style of your film (basically the film’s logline)
c. Intended Audience and Genre
d. Scenery and/or Location Needs
e. Required Resources – Camera(s), Lighting, Audio, Studio, etc.
f. Limitations
i. Describe known limitations for the project. This may include budget constraints and/or talent availability.
ii. Other limitations could exist in facility or infrastructure use and availability.
g. Style
i. Mise en scene – production design, costumes, props, locations, etc.
ii. Cinematography – composition, camera movement, tonal qualities, etc.
iii. Editing – pace, rhythm, etc. iv. Sound – music, sound effects, etc.

4. Literature Review–This section is required for films that rely on research, such a historical, scientific, technological, and/or location references.
a. Briefly discuss your sources for information, such as the Internet, library resources, and/or personal interviews.
b. Include information regarding which sources were the most useful and provide some insights on how this information informs your script, such as which aspects of the references are most useful and which parts will you omit.
c. Bibliography

5. Script Analysis
a. A breakdown of the film with protagonist’s goal for the film, the protagonist’s goal for each scene, and a breakdown of action/conflict beats for each scene.

6. Conclusion – This section is added to the proposal after post-production has completed.
a. Details how well the finished film accomplished the original vision the student set out to achieve.

Petition for Admission to Candidacy and Notice of Intent to Complete a Master’s Thesis:

-The student must also file a Petition for Admission to Candidacy with the Graduate School. This includes a formal declaration of the student’s Program of Study and will be used later by the Graduate School as a check-sheet for graduation. The Petition for Admission to Candidacy and Notice of Intent to Complete a Master’s Thesis should be filed at the script defense, to indicate the student’s intention to complete a thesis. Students must complete and receive approval for all coursework before beginning thesis hours.




-By the end of the fourth semester students must complete a comprehensive examination administered by the thesis committee.  This must be completed before beginning the thesis project.  The comprehensive examination will cover history, theory, and production practices.  The comprehensive exam takes place in April in the student’s second year.

Students are given a list of questions during the third semester, from which the exam questions will be drawn.  The exam itself is a one-day, on-site, written exam. The graduate faculty will evaluate the comprehensive exam and give it either a Pass or a Fail.

Students who pass the examination will be able enroll in thesis hours and continue the program.  Students who fail will not be allowed to enroll in thesis hours.  Failing students must re-take and pass the exam before they will be allowed to enroll in thesis hours and complete the program.  A student who fails the comprehensive examination the first time will be allowed to take it twice more.  Students can only take the exam once per semester. The exam is only offered in Fall and Spring semesters.

Petition for Admission to Candidacy and Notice of Intent to Complete a Master’s Thesis:

-The student must also file a Petition for Admission to Candidacy with the Graduate School.  This includes a formal declaration of the student’s Program of Study and will be used later by the Graduate School as a check-sheet for graduation. The Petition for Admission to Candidacy should be filed by the end of the student’s fourth semester, after passing the script defense, to indicate the student’s intention to complete a thesis.  In addition, students must also submit a Notice of Intent to Complete a Master’s Thesis. Students must complete and receive approval for all coursework before beginning thesis hours.




Production Book and Thesis Hours:

-Once all of these steps are completed, students are allowed to enroll in thesis hours for their third year (fifth and sixth semesters).
-Students typically enroll in nine hours of thesis production per semester in their third year. Students must complete 18 hours of thesis work to graduate.

-Once enrolled in thesis hours, a student’s thesis committee chair becomes their primary advisor. A student must have the advisor’s consent to enroll in thesis hours after the first semester of their third year.

-After the script has been approved by the student’s thesis committee, the student must have a production book approved by the thesis advisor before the student will be allowed access to any university equipment for shooting purposes. The production book should contain the following: script, script analysis, shot lists, completed release forms, script breakdowns, shooting schedules, prop list, costume list, cast and crew list, and schedule approval from the equipment manager for any departmental equipment. The production book must be submitted to the thesis chair by August 31st to guarantee access to equipment.

-Students are required to have the following crew positions filled by persons other than themselves: Production Manager, First Assistant Director, Script Supervisor, Cinematographer, Camera Operator, Sound Recorder, Gaffer, and Grip. Positions may not be doubled. Students must submit a signed crew list of all crew members as part of their production book.

-Once the thesis advisor approves the production book, the student will have access to departmental equipment for their thesis shoot. Students are only guaranteed two weeks of access to equipment. In addition, equipment access for production is only guaranteed during the Fall semester of the thesis year. If a student fails to use the equipment during their scheduled time, they may not reserve equipment for a later date. However, they will be able to checkout the equipment on the day needed, if it is available. Changes to the schedule must be approved by the thesis chair.

-After shooting is completed, students are required to show their footage to their committee chair by December 15th in order to be eligible to show and defend their thesis in April. The thesis chair must approve the footage before the student can shoot any reshoots or pick-up shots.

Thesis and Thesis Defense:
-At the end of the sixth semester, usually in the first and second weeks of April, students must screen their work publicly and defend their thesis to their graduate committee. The screening and defense date will be scheduled well in advance.

-The thesis defense takes place in two parts. The first is a screening of the thesis project. All thesis projects for that semester will be screened on the same day (usually the first Saturday in April). The screening is open to the public. The second part is the oral defense, which will be scheduled for the week following the screening. The oral examination is principally a defense of the thesis. This provides an opportunity for the student to present his/her work to the committee formally and for the committee to indicate its acceptance or to require further work to make it acceptable. At the oral defense the candidate will present an artistic overview of the project. The artist’s statement, final script, director’s book and producer’s book must be made available at the oral examination. The committee will then ask questions of the candidate. When the questioning is completed, the committee will deliberate and vote on whether the project passes or fails. The deliberation and vote will take place in private. This defense must be successfully completed in time for the thesis to be in the office of the Graduate Dean at least two weeks prior to the date of graduation.

-The completed thesis project will include the following elements:
1. A completed narrative, fiction film, between 20 and 30 minutes in length.
2. A copy of the production proposal, with a new, added Conclusions section, and all language changed to past tense.
3. The final shooting script in proper script format.
4. A production book containing all relevant pre-production and production paperwork, including, but not limited to: script breakdown sheets, storyboards, shooting schedule, element lists (props, costumes, etc.), and all necessary release forms (actor, location, music, etc.), as well as creative documents, including shot lists, set plans, and script analysis.

-Thesis films will have a minimum running time of 20 minutes and a maximum running time of 30 minutes.

There is no set or required cost for a thesis film. Because thesis films will be shot in digital video with department equipment, overall budgets should be kept to reasonable levels. The most expensive items on the budget will probably include: craft service; catering; transportation; costumes; props; settings; location rentals; music composition, recording and rights; and publicity materials and festival entry fees. If students choose to use SAG actors they may have salary deferrals to pay.

Thesis projects budgets can vary widely depending upon the film and the student. However, a budget of $1500 to $2500 would most likely be reasonable. The university does not provide any funding for thesis projects.

-After all corrections requested by the thesis or dissertation committee have been made, the student must submit the following to the Graduate School:
1) Two copies of the movie on a playable DVD-R.
2) Two unbound original on bond paper of the artist’s statement and script with original signatures of the thesis committee on the approval page.
3) The signed routing form (Appendix A).

Formatting guidelines for written materials, samples of the approval page and other documents, and relevant forms such as the routing form can be found in the Thesis and Dissertation Handbook.

Final verification that all requirements have been met will be given by the Graduate Dean, who will notify the student and committee chair. The original paperwork on bond paper will be placed in Torreyson Library.

The student will also submit the following to the Department of Mass Communication and Theatre:
1) Three copies of the completed film. Two standard definition copies on a playable DVD, and one Quicktime version in its original High-Definition resolution on a data DVD.
2) One bound original on bond paper of the production proposal and script with original signatures of thesis committee on the approval page.
3) A copy of the complete production book and director’s book.

These materials must be submitted at the thesis defense. The thesis approval page will not be signed until these items are turned in.




-The Application for Graduation is a separate step from filing the Petition for Admission to Candidacy and must be completed by the deadline in the semester in which the student plans to graduate  (This is typically very early in the term and includes payment of a graduation fee at the Business Office or the Graduate Office.)  The Application for Graduation specifies the title of the student’s thesis.

-The thesis, in final form with signatures of all committee members, must be submitted to the Graduate Dean at least two weeks prior to the date of graduation. The routing form signed by the Thesis Committee Chair, Department Chair, and College Dean must accompany the thesis.

-Verification of successful completion of the comprehensive examination and/or the defense of the thesis must be submitted to the Graduate School office two weeks prior to the date of graduation.